US proposes sending $500 billion in checks to Americans, starting April 6
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US proposes sending $500 billion in checks to Americans, starting April 6

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APTOPIX Virus Outbreak Congress

The Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol are seen in Washington at sunrise Wednesday. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Treasury Department said Wednesday it wants to dedicate $500 billion to start issuing direct payments to Americans by early next month as the centerpiece of a $1 trillion plan to stabilize the economy as the coronavirus epidemic threatens a body slam to taxpayers and businesses.

In a memorandum, Treasury proposed two $250 billion cash infusions to individuals: A first set of checks issued starting April 6, with a second wave in mid-May. The amounts would depend on income and family size.

The Treasury plan, which requires approval by Congress, also recommends $50 billion to stabilize the airlines, $150 billion to issue loan guarantees to other struggling sectors, and $300 billion to for small businesses. The plan appears to anticipate that some of the loans would not be repaid.

Taken together, the administration plan promises half of the $1 trillion to families and individuals, with the other half used to prop up businesses.

The details are for the third coronavirus response bill that lawmakers hope to pass next week. Direct payments would go to U.S. citizens only, and would be “tiered based on income level and family size.” The two payments would be identical, with the second wave starting by May 18.

It comes as the Senate turned Wednesday to a House-passed coronavirus response bill, with passage set for later in the afternoon.

The Treasury outline provides a basis for lawmakers to work from in an unprecedented government response and is likely to be broadened to include additional emergency funding for federal agencies.

The price tag for the upcoming economic package alone promises to exceed Treasury's $1 trillion request, a rescue plan not seen since the Great Recession. Trump is urging Congress to pass the eye-popping stimulus package in a matter of days. A more realistic time frame is next week.

As analysts warn the country is surely entering a recession, the government is grappling with an enormous political undertaking with echoes of the 2008 financial crisis.

Wednesday's legislation would speed the delivery of testing for the virus and provide paid sick leave to workers, but the focus in Washington has already moved to development of a far, far larger response bill that would inject hundreds of billions of dollars into the faltering economy, provide relief to shuttered businesses, and help keep airlines from going under.

At the Capitol on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prepared his colleagues for unprecedented steps to deal with the epidemic's assault on the economy.

“I will not adjourn the Senate until we pass a far bolder package,” McConnell said. “We aren't leaving until we deliver.”

But first, McConnell said, the Senate will vote on a $100 billion-plus House-passed package of sick pay, emergency food and free testing, putting it back on track for Trump's signature — despite Republican objections over the potential impact on small businesses saddled with a new mandate to pay sick leave. The government would reimburse businesses but business advocacy groups say the plan isn't workable for many small firms.

“We're going to vote to pass the House bill, but its imperfections will just make our more comprehensive package more urgent," McConnell said, referencing opposition among his members to the small business mandate.

McConnell is trying to take charge of the third coronavirus effort, putting GOP chairmen in charge and promising to consult with Senate Democrats later. Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York retains great leverage and blasted McConnell's approach, saying it's “too cumbersome, too partisan and will take far too long, given the urgency and need for cooperation.”

For instance, the top Democrat on the Small Business Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, said bipartisan talks that had been going smoothly over the weekend had broken down.

Wednesday's Treasury plan includes $300 billion in “small business interruption loans” that would be 100% guaranteed by the federal government to cover six weeks of payroll during the crisis. These loans would be made through private banks.

The plan would also establish a $50 billion lending program dedicated to the imperiled airline industry, which would be required to keep flying as a condition of securing the loan. Another $150 billion would underwrite loans to other business sectors.

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President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned Americans to brace for a “rough two-week period” ahead as the White House released new projections that there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned Americans to brace for a “rough two-week period” ahead as the White House released new projections that there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.

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